BootsnAll indie travel guide

Gadgets on Your RTW Trip: Minimalism or Bring ‘Em All?

When it comes to travel, everyone seems to have an opinion about technology. Technology is ever-changing, so it’s tough to stay current with what’s available, what’s best for travel, and what’s totally unnecessary. In fact, just now, a new technological advancement was made – we’re sure of it. So, basically, this article is already out of date.

Say good-bye to local SIM<br/> cards when traveling abroad
Say good-bye to local SIM
cards when traveling abroad

While that may be a bit of an over exaggeration, the changes made during the course of a year is amazing. When BootsnAll editor Adam went on his RTW trip in 2008-2009, he says “the iPad wasn’t even a thing yet – hell, it wasn’t even announced when we got back – and now it’s a part of the great travel technological debate.”

Even though people feel passionately about their gadgets and toys, let’s set the record straight from the get-go. There really is not a right or wrong answer when it comes to bringing electronic devices.  Cameras, iPods, ereaders, a laptop, iPad, smart phone, or no tech gizmos at all – it’s all what is best for you and your situation!

What we want to do is give you the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision. Everyone has different wants and needs when it comes to technology on their trip, so everyone is going to have a different opinion. The key is to figure out what you need, and go from there.

Smart phones

smart phone

Cell phones have come a long way in the past 20 years. From those giant bag phones to the Zack Morris phone to the iPhone, our little hand-held phones can do a lot these days. But are they smart to bring with you on a RTW trip? There are several schools of thought on this.

Just as recent as five years ago, most people – let alone travelers – didn’t own smart phones, so bringing one on a long-term trip wasn’t even a question. Now that more people are accustomed to everything that smart phones can do because they use them regularly at home, it’s harder to imagine leaving them behind on a long trip. Your smart phone can be your main go-to gadget. It can serve as a mini-computer, a camera, and a video camera –  so honestly, for the average traveler, a good smart phone might be all the gadget you need.

They’re small enough that the main question of whether to bring it with you or not isn’t size – it’s the expense of using it internationally.

Pros of Bringing a Smart Phone

  • Pocket computer:  
    • You have a mini computer in your pocket at all times.
    • Reviews are at your fingertips. No need to go to an internet cafe all the time.
    • It can double as a music player and (depending on the type of phone you have) an external hard drive.
  • Serves as a camera and video camera: Smart phones these days have excellent cameras and video cameras, and as long as you’re not looking to become a professional photographer, it can be perfect for most average travelers.
  • Cuts back on luggage:  You won’t need to carry big, cumbersome maps, and guidebooks as you can access them from your phone.
  • To have a phone:  It’s nice to be able to call hostels, hotels, restaurants, and booking agencies.

Cons of Bringing a Smartphone

  • Too much: One more device, one more charger, one more thing to bring.
  • Expense:  
    • Phones can be expensive, and the more gadgets you bring, the more worried about your pack you have to be.
    • Buying SIM cards and data plans will add to your budget.
  • Risk:  You will have to worry about unlocking, jailbreaking, and finding SIM cards for your phone.

iPad

iPad

The iPad is quickly becoming a favorite among travelers today, with the iPad mini becoming an even better travel companion. It’s small, lightweight, and the battery lasts for about 9-10 hours, making it perfect for long bus and train rides. The ease with which you can move around with it makes it great for bringing on trips. For educational purposes, there are tons of great apps you can utilize. But what about a RTW trip? Is an iPad sufficient for all your RTW travel needs? Is a netbook better? Would it just be easier to bring a lightweight, durable laptop or smartphone with you instead?

Proponents of the iPad say it’s perfect for your basic traveling needs. It may be difficult if you plan on blogging a lot as typing on the touch screen can get a bit tiresome for long posts. But you do have the option of getting a blue tooth keyboard to bring with you that makes things a bit easier (keep in mind that this essentially makes your iPad a laptop). Typing on the iPad isn’t much more difficult than doing it on tiny netbook computers (especially when you get used to it), which some argue is a reliable alternative to the iPad. And while netbooks are quite nice and can be found for about half the price as an iPad, you do get what you pay for. Most cheap netbooks are exactly that, cheap – and durability while traveling RTW could be an issue (though you can be less concerned about breaking it or it getting lost or stolen).

Pros of Bringing an iPad

  • Size:  Extremely small and super lightweight.
  • Battery life:  The battery lasts up to 10 hours, which is much better than any laptop or netbook.
  • Travel:  Great for planes, trains, and buses because of the size.
  • Education: Lots of great educational tools on an iPad.
  • Variety:  
    • It can do most things a laptop can do – email, web surfing, maps, etc.
    • Great for entertainment – watching movies and TV shows – especially with the great battery life.
    • Has 3G capabilities if you want to jailbreak while traveling and be able to use it everywhere.

Cons of Bringing an iPad

  • Expense:  They are expensive, so losing, breaking, or getting one stolen would be painful. Definitely a reason to look into travel insurance.
  • What can they do?
    • While they can do most of what a laptop can do, they can’t do everything.
    • If you plan on doing some serious blogging and/or working, it will be more challenging and time consuming.
    • 3G is both a pro and a con. It’s really nice to have, but it’s going to be more costly having to buy SIM cards and data plans.

Laptop

Laptop 2

With only a few clicks on a Google search results page, you can find very strong opinions on both sides of the argument on whether or not to bring a laptop on your trip. The hard-core travelers often think it’s totally unnecessary. You travel to get away from daily life, they say, and get a chance to be one with the world. Staying connected all the time via a laptop just isn’t part of the travel experience, according to many backpackers. While that is a legitimate point, you have to ask yourself how tethered to your computer you think you’ll be, and then factor in how beneficial you think it would be having your own laptop with you at all times.

Pros of Bringing a Laptop

  • Blogging:  If you have a travel blog, whether for fun, family, or business, it’s much easier to keep up with if you have your own laptop.
  • Working:  You may be able to score some work while gone if you have some digital nomad skills.
  • Education: If you’re a traveling family, then a laptop may be a necessity as it will probably be your go-to tool for education. Gone are the days of carrying heavy textbooks with you around the world – nearly everything is digitized now, which makes it much easier for road-schooling.
  • Photo editing/backup:  If you like taking a lot of pictures, it’s nice to have a laptop so you can regularly download them from your camera. You can then easily back them up to hard drives, CDs or DVDs, or upload them to photo sites like Flickr.
  • Entertainment:  They’re great for entertainment. Some people like to be able to keep up with their favorite TV shows, movies, and sporting events, and having your own laptop allows you to do that more easily.
  • Music – Including managing your library, downloading new songs you hear along the way, and updating your iPod with podcast and such. It’s great to have your own laptop for things like this.
  • Privacy:  
    • It’s great to have privacy for Skyping with family and friends back home.
    • It’s nice to be able to take care of your banking from your own computer instead of a public one in a hostel or internet cafe.

Cons of Bringing a Laptop

  • Tethered:  Sometimes people stay too connected and don’t get out to see the city or country they’re in nearly as much.
  • It’s unnecessary:  Do you really need to watch Glee while you’re gone?
  • Bulk and weight – If you do bring a laptop and you have a choice, you should definitely take the smallest one you can manage to bring. Every ounce of weight you are dragging around gets multiplied when you are literally hauling every possession on your back for months on end.
  • Risk:  
    • While laptops aren’t really expensive anymore, they’re still not free, so that’s one more added expense.
    • It’s also one more expensive item you have to carry with you and risk getting broken, lost, or stolen.
    • Computers are fragile. One drop and it could be totally done. With all the jostling and moving around one does on a RTW trip, chances of it coming home unscathed aren’t terribly high.
  • Unreliability:  It’s extremely frustrating when technology doesn’t work, and even though it’s come a long way over the years, it’s still a pain to get online in lots of places.  Internet is unreliable in many parts of the world, and if you count on having it and then constantly run into connectivity problems, frustration sets in very quickly.

The prevalence of internet cafes

Internet cafes are very common and pretty much everywhere. Obviously this situation changes and improves every month, but you’ll usually have no problem finding computers with decent connections to use while traveling. The hourly cost of using public machines tends to equate more to the cost of labor and rent in that area than what you might think the cost of high tech equipment in that country might be. In other words, using a computer in the south of France is usually going to be much more expensive than using one in a small city in India, even if it’s surprising that little city even has high-speed internet access at all.

Another development is making this situation better all the time as well. With broadband connections becoming more and more common, and older used computers getting cheaper, many hostels and even hotels have areas with free internet for their guests. This can range anywhere from one lumbering machine in a corner for the whole place, all the way up to a room full of fast and modern machines.

Hostels tend to do better at this than hotels, but the situation everywhere is improving all the time since this has become a major selling point for both hostels and hotels. Many places will have a 15 to 30-minute limit on usage if other guests are waiting, but this usually doesn’t become a problem if you are just planning on a bit of e-mail or travel research.

There will be times when you want a longer session with no one looking over your shoulder, so you’ll just block out an hour or two at a proper internet place. If you have some blogging or photo managing that will take a good chunk of time, it’s advisable to do it in, or save it for, your cheaper destinations. The hourly rate in Marrakech might be one third of the hourly rate in Madrid, for example.

Cameras – DSLR vs. Point and shoot

Camera

With the advent of good, relatively inexpensive professional style DSLR cameras, it’s tempting to want to join the throngs of wannabe professional photographers. While DSLR cameras are nice to have and produce amazing shots, it’s imperative to actually know how to use one to make it worth the money, space, weight, and risk of bringing it around the world with you. If you don’t know how to get off the automatic functions, then bringing a decent point and shoot will probably be more than enough for you.

While we’re on the subject, point and shoots in this day and age are pretty damn impressive. You can get plenty of quality shots with a point and shoot, and they are so small and light that it’s hardly an added weight or space thing. If you plan on blogging (for more than just your family and friends) or really enjoy photography, then by all means, bring a DSLR. Just keep in mind that things like tripods and extra lenses and batteries all add up, in cost, weight, space, and risk. Really ponder how necessary it is. While they are much more affordable these days, they are still a target for theft, and losing one or having one stolen just flat out sucks.

Security is an issue that you’ll need to stay conscious of regardless of what type of camera you decide to bring, just as with an iPod. These little cameras can be a great temptation to drunken or unscrupulous travelers, as well as local thieves and pickpockets. With cameras in particular, it’s not unheard for thieves on a motorbike to literally grab them out of your hand as you walk along the street, so it’s important to keep this in mind and keep them out of sight when not in use. And unless you are a real pro, you might also consider bringing a $200 camera with you and leaving your $500+ camera at home, just in case.

Considering video cameras

video camera

With digital video cameras getting so much smaller and cheaper lately this isn’t as easy as it used to be, but we are still going to try to talk most of you out of bringing a video camera. Of course, if you are a would-be director or cinematographer and you really enjoy editing videos and posting them on Youtube and whatnot, this is your chance of a lifetime to take awesome footage. But if you are on the fence about this it’s probably best to leave the thing at home.

They are more expensive than still cameras and the batteries go pretty quickly as well, so you end up spending a lot of time recharging. And since the data files are so much larger, it can get to be a project to offload and store your footage as you go. But the main reasons why video cameras aren’t ideal companions on RTW trips are less obvious.

Nearly all the newer digital cameras can record short videos these days anyway. For most people this will be plenty since it automatically keeps you from rolling for large chunks of time that will bore people. And they work well enough that if you want to record a short clip of you and some friends you meet on the road saying hello, and then post it to Youtube, you’ll be covered.

Storing photos

You’ve got quite a few options here and this is getting easier all the time. If you’ve got a fast connection on a public computer, you can upload your photos to an online photo-sharing site, like Flickr, and if you have your own computer with you, it makes it easier as you can do it while sleeping if your hostel or hotel has a WiFi connection. But if you’ve got a ton of photos or the file sizes are large, this can take a bit of time, especially in countries where the connection isn’t what you’re used to.

If you want to keep them with you there are a few other options. Most internet cafes all over the world do a brisk business burning CDs and now DVDs full of photos for travelers passing through. You can get hundreds of photos on one CD and obviously a lot more than that on DVDs. It’s usually quite inexpensive, so you might consider getting a duplicate of each disc to store in a different place or even mail home.

Another option that is even easier is bringing a small portable hard drive along with you. These are getting smaller and cheaper every month, and many of them are made specifically for this purpose. Some of the more expensive models even have a preview screen on the hard drive so you can sort easily. Make sure you have the right adapters before you leave. USB adapters and memory card readers are quite cheap, but you don’t want to have to hunt one down on a beach somewhere (though large cities anywhere in the world make finding something you need pretty easy).

eReaders

Kindle

If you are a voracious reader who can easily go through a few books a week, purchasing an eReader like a Kindle and loading it up with books can save you both money and space in your bag. Along your journey you’ll have lots of downtime, waiting for delayed planes and sitting on broken down buses. If you’re a traveling family, chances are that books and literature will be a big part of the educational plan, and an ereader can save you loads of space. You can get your literature plan together before leaving and have all the materials you need downloaded and ready to go the day you walk out the door.

You don’t want to let yourself get so lost in your books that you ignore the world around you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good novel every once in a while. If you do choose to bring an e-reader, just be sure to keep it secure when you aren’t using it. It’s also important to keep in mind that the charge on an eReader might not last on some of the more epic bus and train journeys, so having a backup might be a good idea.

iPod’s and portable music players

ipod

If you are already a committed iPod user, or if you have a phone that doubles as a music player and you’re already planning on bringing that, then this probably isn’t even a question you are asking yourself.

Let’s face it, for some of us recorded music is a huge part of not only our daily entertainment but also part of the way we keep our sanity. But for other people recorded music is something to play at a party or when the cable TV has gone out. If you are in the former group, an iPod will be extremely valuable on a long-term trip. If you are closer to the latter group, there isn’t much reason to think an instant conversion will take place on your way to the airport.

Bringing expensive gadgets on a trip like this is generally a bad idea, but an iPod can be as essential as a camera for some of us, and some of the downsides aren’t as down as they were just a short time ago. The first few generations of iPods were quite thick and not really well-suited to carrying in a front pocket, but the newer ones have taken care of that.

Some people argue that an iPod puts up a barrier between you and the people, sights, and sounds you are there for in the first place. Yes, listening to music while strolling along the Champs Elysees is probably taking it too far, but your trip will consist of much more than that. Whether you realize it now or not, there will be dozens, and probably hundreds, of hours waiting for flights, riding on trains, buses, and planes, and just hours you’ll want to relax alone to recharge your own mental batteries. If you use music to help calm and entertain yourself, you’ll be glad you have a music player with you. And if you aren’t a big music fan, there are thousands of podcasts to download, which makes it nice to keep up with things like news and other entertainment you may be missing out on. Travel podcasts can get you excited for that next destination you are heading to.

Security is definitely an issue, but particularly with the newer and smaller ones it is realistic to carry them with you just about everywhere. You can’t let your guard down, so you have to prepare yourself to be very cautious. If you are listening to it in a crowded hostel dorm room, you can’t assume that stuffing it inside a sock in your backpack will guarantee it will be there when you look for it next time. And if you are going swimming or otherwise getting wet, you’ll want to leave it behind somewhere, but as long as you are careful this shouldn’t become a major issue.

The other advantage to bringing an iPod with you is it can also be used for data back-up in addition to being an audio/video player. You can keep computer documents and travel photos saved alongside music and video files.

Au natural

And then there are those who refuse to travel with any gadgets. You know the ones. The guys who have a 25-liter pack that isn’t even filled and seem to get buy on virtually no gear at all. These travelers simply like to travel and don’t want to fuss around with any technological advancements. For many people the idea of traveling long-term involves leaving their world behind, at least to some degree. An occasional trip to the internet cafe or hostel computer works just fine for this traveler, and if that’s the way you want to go, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Pros of Going Au Natural

  • No worries:  You won’t have to worry about any expensive gear.
  • Less luggage:  No second bag for all your chargers and cords.
  • Do what you came for:  You can focus on traveling instead of staying connected to everyone at home. You did leave for a reason, remember?
  • Less expense:  
    • Your trip will cost less with less items to worry about. No expensive gear to buy, no data plans to worry about.
    • You won’t have to worry about extra insurance just for all your electronics.

Cons of Going Au Natural

  • Loved ones:  It will be more difficult to stay connected to loved ones back home.
  • Education: While it’s certainly possible to take care of educational needs without any technology, it just makes it so much easier now. Talk to any family who traveled long-term before computers were commonplace.
  • Research:  Things like researching and booking flights will potentially be more time consuming.
  • Photos:  It will be more difficult and time consuming to back up all your photos. If you lose or break a camera or memory card, you are more likely to lose photos.
  • Blogging:  If you plan on having a blog, you either won’t keep up with it or you will spend a lot of time in internet cafes.

There really isn’t a right or wrong answer to this debate. Everyone must decide for themselves whether or not they want to bring electronics on a RTW trip. They can certainly assist the traveler and can be really nice to have, but they are also a pain to worry about all the time. It’s important to do as much research as possible and make an informed decision. It’s also important to be honest with yourself. Just because someone else has no problem traveling with no electronics whatsoever doesn’t mean that you’ll like it. If you’re a tech person now, that’s not going to change when you leave for the trip. So do your research, think things through, and trust your instincts.

To read more about this topic, be sure to check out the following article and peruse the message boards for more on this popular topic:

Gadgets Checklist

Ask yourself the important questions when deciding to bring a laptop and/or cell phone or not:

  1. Will you be taking tons of photos?
  2. Do you plan on blogging?
  3. How important is it to stay connected?
  4. Do you get bored easily? Do you break out in hives at the thought of limited movies, tv shows, and sports?
  5. Do you know how to jailbreak/unlock your cell phone?
  6. Do you understand the concept of sim cards for using your cell internationally?
  7. Do you want to have a budget for your cell phone bills/costs?
  8. Is a goal of your trip to get disconnected?
  9. How much do you plan on Skyping/staying in touch with family and friends?
  10. Consider other options-netbooks or an iPad
  11. Remember that internet cafes and hostel computer stations are more and more common

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

 


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